Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Nizhny Novgorod

September 28, 2008
by Stuart
1 Comment

Our first stop on the Trans-Mongolia was Nizhny Novgorod. It was a six hour train ride from Moscow and one of the few Golden Ring cities accessible by the Trans-Mongolian.

Our hotel was right above a casino. We loved it. Not for the gambling, tho – it was the first real bed and private shower we’d had since arriving in Russia. We even got a free breakfast which was unexpected because this is a country where restaurants charge you for sugar packets.

The next morning was really foggy – we couldn’t see much outside the hotel – but we caught a minibus across the river to the kremlin and downtown. In Russia, most older towns have a “kremlin”, which is a walled compound built when the town started that usually housed the local government, wealthy citizens and churches, keeping them safe and protected. And not surprisingly, the poorer citizens lived outside the walls – unsafe and unprotected. Suckers!

High fashion on the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ul

High fashion on the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ul

The kremlin was up on a hill with a cool walkway around it, but not much to offer on the inside. After walking part way around the kremlin, we walked along the promenade downtown looking at the stores and various street vendors before eating lunch, which was followed by more walking then sitting in an internet cafe. The the fog cleared giving us some great views and we started our journey back to the hotel to get our bags.

Walkway around the kremlin

Walkway around the kremlin.

This is when my least chivalrous moment happened. Let me first explain what a minibus is. Take a bus and cut it in half, then double the stink and let it age in your backyard for a good 30 years. Oh, and don’t clean it. Ever. That is a minibus.

Overlooking the Volga from the kremlin

Overlooking the Volga.

So, when aforementioned minibus pulled up to our stop, it was already packed. Tina and I crammed our way in the door and just fit. Then these two older ladies got in behind us blocking the door from shutting. They started pushing us further into the bus and the people already in the bus started pushing us back. Tina began saying she couldn’t breath and was gasping. So I turned around and starting pushing on the old ladies behind us saying and motioning that Tina couldn’t breath. The lady closest to us just shrugged. Oh, it’s on grandma. It’s on. Then somehow the lady behind her fell out the bus. But I’m innocent on that one.

Looking across the Oka River towards our hotel

Looking across the Oka River towards our hotel.

Maybe 20 minutes later it was our stop and the minibus was still packed. It stopped and started letting people out. And we motion that we are trying to get off but the old lady shrugged again and kept texting on her phone. So I started pushing her off the bus until she got the picture (I should mention here, too, that when a minibus stops you have about ten seconds to get off before it shuts the door and starts moving). She gets off and as I step off the minibus she had some words for me which I like to think was some form of apology.

I deserve it, right?

Lost All Over

September 27, 2008
by Stuart
1 Comment

St. Petersburg and Moscow have more outdoor advertising than anywhere in the States. The buildings and the Metro are covered with ads. Along some sidewalks there are smaller rotating billboards – one intersection in Moscow had at least 12. When we combined the rotating billboards with the larger billboards and timed it right, we saw Jack in as many as eight spots at once. And that was just at that one intersection – seemed like he was all over Moscow. This was my favorite one, tho. It was huge and right across from the Red Square. Gotta love all the streetcar power lines.

I thought the stubble was just for the show...

I thought the stubble was just for the show...

Last Days In Moscow

September 27, 2008
by Stuart

Our last few days before in Moscow were a mad dash to see a few more things before we left. Advice to possible Moscow-goers: there is lots to see here. The books and other travelers said the opposite, but I disagree. Moscow is awesome – two weeks would be perfect. Just walking to places you end up passing little churches or little streets with markets that aren’t mentioned in books. You need time to just wander. Plus you can take some day trips to a few of the Golden Ring cities.

We went to the Izmaylovo Market which has to be the biggest market ever. It was packed with people and went on forever. Each aisle went for as long as you could see, then that aisle would have a few more branching off from it. Then there was another market within that market that you had to pay to get in. It was more touristy – but then the back of that market turned into a flee market. After getting lunch at the market, we went to the Contemporary History Museum which focused on Russia’s history for most of the 20th century.

The next day we spent most the morning/early afternoon getting train tickets for the Trans-Mongolian. Later that afternoon the sun finally came out so we went back to Red Square to take some photos and hang out. Even though Red Square conjures up images of tanks and communism, it’s really a beautiful place where people come to enjoy the weather and socialize.

State History Museum and part of the Kremlin wall.

State History Museum and part of the Kremlin wall.

Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral

That's what I'm talking about!

That's what I'm talkin' about!

Spungebob "Red" Squarepantsky

Spongebob Squarepantsky

On our final day we went back to the Kremlin to visit the Armory. The Armory has all kinds of relics from churches and past royalty. Even a room with knights’ armor, swords, lances, battle gear for horses and other Medieval weapons. The last room had old carriages from back in the day. They looked like something from a Tim Burton film. Then we hit up the Tretyakov Gallery and a few random churches we stumbled upon walking to the museum.

On the way home we stopped in an upscale grocery store that used to be a rich merchant’s mansion. It had chandeliers, stained glass windows and marble everywhere. I wonder if it makes the food taste better? It was really dark and crowded inside, so the photos aren’t great. But you get the idea.

Yeliseev Grocery Store

Yeliseev Grocery Store

Yeliseev Grocery Store

Yeliseev Grocery Store

We also got some Russian chocolate for some people who worked at the hostel who were increadably helpful. We’ve been told that chocolate is the perfect bribe in Russia. It’s also a good thank you gift. They were really excited and ate most of it that night.

Mullets, Brides and Ice Cream, Oh My!

September 26, 2008
by Tina
1 Comment

One of my favorite things about traveling is observing how people in different countries are the same, and how they are different.  Granted I’ve only really been to three cities in Russia, but here are some of the observations on the differences thus far.

Russians love their ice cream.  Despite the rain or cold or fog, we constantly pass people on the street eating ice cream.  You can’t walk more that a few feet without passing an ice cream vendor.  We tried it and it’s really good – even in the cold.

Going to the chapel and... oh, I mean the weird statue down by the river.

Going to the chapel and... oh, I mean that weird statue down by the river.

Brides are everywhere.  It is inevitable that we will see a bride and groom taking pictures in front of every major sight that we visit.  It seems that they get married in the morning and spend the rest of the day (in the cold) taking pictures in front of the city’s monuments.

Shoes & legs.  The young women here really dress up.  I think I have mentioned that its cold – but you’ll still see most girls in skirts and high heals.  Apparently there is a shortage of men in Russia, so the women really play up their sexuality. I think it looks ridiculous and impractical.  Stuart thinks it’s awesome.

Mullets. The young women wear short skirts and high healed shoes and the young men have mullets – we definitely got the short end of that stick, ladies.

Religion.  The dominant religion here – at least in Moscow and St. Petersburg is Russian Orthodox.  Granted we have seen a lot of churches, so my view my be skewed, but I was surprised at how religious the Russian people are.  One thing in particular that I have noticed is how often people cross themselves while in a church.  I know that Catholics usually do this upon approaching the alter, but it seems that for the Russian Orthodox, there is occasion around every corner.  I thought it was a bit excessive when I saw a women cross herself in front of a model of  a church outside the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow, and then another cross herself in front of each of the dozens of icons on display at the Armory Museum.

That’s my impression so far and I’m eager to see what Russia is like outside the major tourist destinations.

Moscow So Far

September 21, 2008
by Stuart

We’ve been in Moscow four days and I like it. Maybe more than St. Petersburg. A good analogy would be Florence and Rome. Like Florence, St. Petersburg is visually superior – and most of the culture is centrally located. But Moscow has that big city buzz – like Rome – and has history and culture around in little nooks. St. Petersburg had lots of beautiful people dressed up. Moscow has a bit more blue in the collar.

One of my litmus tests for big cities is the public transportation (SF being the biggest exception). Moscow’s Metro is the best in the world. It moves over nine million people a day – more then London and NYC combined – and has over 150 stops. You can get anywhere. And most of the stops are deep underground (the escalator ride usually takes about three minutes down to the platform) because they were used as air raid bunkers during The War. Some of the stops are really beautiful – stain glass windows, sculptures, mosaics. Oh, and the average wait time for a train, regardless of time of day, is about two minutes – and the trains are always full. The best part is that on some lines, the doors open and people start getting off before the train comes to a complete stop.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Most impressive church in Moscow.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Most impressive church in Moscow.

We’ve visited the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum (all three of them), some churches, the Red Square and the Kremlin. Red Square: kinda cool. Kremlin: kinda boring. In the Red Square there is Lenin’s Mausoleum which is awesome. His body has been preserved by, among other things, being dipped in wax every 18 months. You walk into this room which is really dark and he is just lying there with a light shining on him. Pretty creepy. The guards keep you moving and hush you if you’re talking. St. Basil’s was cool, but much smaller inside then expected. It’s also great that directly across from Lenin’s Mausoleum is a modern expensive shopping mall.

Assumption Cathedral and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in the Kremlin

Assumption Cathedral and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in the Kremlin.

The Kremiln was a disappointment. You wait in line for a while, and once inside you can only visit a few churches. Everything else is off limits with guards keeping you from going anywhere. There are cameras everywhere and a eery feeling like you are being watched. We haven’t made it to the Armory yet which I hear is kinda cool. I kept a good lookout for Putin. Didn’t see him. Although a limo arrived with a police escort and several unmarked cars.